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Made in Lille Region: Ten healthcare innovations

10 Dec 2014 | Health Nutrition, A region on the move

Lille Region’s cutting-edge ecosystem for healthcare research is generating a wide range of innovations. Here are ten promising young businesses worth watching—most of them groomed by Eurasanté, the region’s center of excellence and biotech incubator.


In a worldwide first, a biotech company in Northern France has been authorized to test a potential Alzheimer’s drug in humans. There are two avenues of research for treating Alzheimer’s disease, and Lille-based Alzprotect is the first to combine them. Results in mice have been conclusive, and real hope for progress emerged as early as 2010. The new clinical study, which will involve 56 volunteers, is expected to confirm that the candidate drug is safe and well-tolerated by healthy subjects. Alzprotect will then identify the dosage, metrics and biomarkers required to launch phase II studies in late 2015 or early 2016.


The disease was unknown until a few years ago, and the drug that might treat it is still under clinical testing. But investors are still keeping a close eye on the market for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)—a liver disease unrelated to alcohol consumption—and on GFT505, a potential treatment under development by Genfit, a Lille-based startup.
In response, Genfit’s stock price has risen steadily. With one share valued at €46.85 in September—an eightfold increase in just a year—the company is now worth nearly €1.1 billion. Experts estimate the market at tens of millions of potential NASH patients in developed countries, a figure projected to top $20 billion (€15.4 billion) by 2025. “By 2018, NASH will be the leading cause of liver transplants,” adds Genfit CEO Jean-François Mouney. Last October, the company announced that it had been granted new patents in China and the US, bringing its total portfolio to 364 patents, including 299 for GFT505 alone.


Too often, today's treatments for rare diseases focus on managing symptoms rather than curing the patient, due largely to a business model that makes niche therapies unprofitable. Biotechnology specialist APTEEUS is addressing the problem by turning the drug development paradigm upside down, starting with the individual patient and moving toward broader markets later. The company can now assess the entire universe of pharmaceuticals in just a few days, determining which compounds could be used to treat each patient’s pathology. With its “one patient, one treatment” approach, APTEEUS takes personalized medicine to the extreme.


Measuring patients’ pain—even when they are asleep—is a challenge that MDoloris Medical System (MDMS) it is prepared to meet. The Lille-based startup has just signed an agreement with US-based Spacelabs Healthcare for worldwide distribution of an innovative pain monitor, designed for adult patients who are under general anesthesia or otherwise unable to communicate. There is no other technology like it in the world.
With the Analgesia Nociception Index (ANI) monitor, healthcare personnel can optimize dosage of pain medications, avoiding the undesirable side effects caused by under- and overdosing. Since 2010, MDMS has sold nearly 340 ANI monitors in some 30 countries. “The agreement with Spacelabs gives us global reach and will generate several million dollars in sales,” says Fabien Pagniez, founder and CEO of MDMS. The company has also developed a monitor for measuring pain in newborns, and recently won approval to commercialize it. Eighteen of these devices have already been sold in five countries.


Lille-based Ethilog has launched the first machine to package medications in unit doses with full traceability, the product of €2 million in R&D. “It has long been possible to package individual doses in bags, but we’re the first to do it with complete identification of the drug,” says Ethilog CEO Henry Shaw. The new machine cuts sheets of blister-packaged medications into unit doses, which are then glued lightly onto small cards showing the drug’s name, lot number and expiration date. Each dose retains its original packaging, with no overwrapping required. The unit-dose packaging equipment, protected by several patents, can process up to 1,500 doses an hour. Cards are then stacked automatically in racks, which are inserted into an intelligent dispensing machine, also designed by Ethilog.
The payoff: hospitals avoid errors in medication. “A range of surveys show that 5% of hospitalized patients around the world suffer serious consequences from medication errors,” Shaw stresses. The increased traceability also optimizes inventory management—and because unused doses are still in their blister packs, they can go back into the system, reducing waste.


VF Bioscience now has its first dietary supplement on the market, and the French-Belgian duo heading the Lille-based company are visibly satisfied. Founded in 2011 and based in the Eurasanté bio-incubator, this innovative startup develops dietary supplements with vitamins and other functional ingredients, as well as patented probiotics sourced from outside the company or selected from a proprietary collection of 200 probiotic strains. Released in late 2013, VF Bioscience’s Reg’Activ Cholesterol product is formulated for people with moderately high blood cholesterol—a group that accounts for 10-15% of the population, depending on the country. “Reg’Activ reduces blood cholesterol by 20% and improves other risk factors for cardiovascular disease as well,” says Marc Frémont, head of R&D at VF Bioscience


In Lille Region, it’s easy for SMEs and clinicians to work together. A case in point: Cousin Biotech, a developer of textile-based medical implants with a 20-year history, and Dr. François Pattou, head of a team that specializes in non-pharmaceutical treatments for diabetes, have joined forces to develop a prosthesis that can treat obesity and type 2 diabetes. The partners have been working together closely for several weeks and have already filed two joint patent applications for this innovative technology.


Just a few weeks ago we announced that the European Genomic Institute for Diabetes (EGID) had laid the first stone of its new diabetes research center. Now EGID is working with Macopharma and several other industry players to develop a program for treating type 1 diabetes with islet transplants—a strategy that has already been used successfully with 45 patients. The Institute is also participating in two major research projects aimed at characterizing response markers in diabetic patients.


4P Pharma operates on an unusual model: it begins by identifying biotech companies and technology transfer accelerators with promising technologies, works with their scientists to develop the technologies as they mature—and only then decides whether or not to license them. Based at the Lille Pasteur Institute, 4P Pharma currently has three programs in its portfolio, and it holds licensing options on two of them.
The most advanced program targets treatment of muscular dystrophy, and preliminary results are promising. The preclinical trials needed to meet regulatory requirements will be held in 2014 and/or 2015, and the clinical phase will start in 2016 if 4P Pharma exercises its option.


In a breakthrough for French-Japanese research, the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science has a new site in Lille—its first outside Japan. Its focus: combining biomedical micro-electromechanical systems (bioMEMS) with structured cancer research to open up a rich area of scientific investigation.
Dubbed SMMiL-E, the French-Japanese project will explore this area through a synergistic research program that unites technologies from the Laboratory for Integrated Micro Mechatronic Systems (LIMMS) with biomedical work at Siric-Onco-Lille, an integrated cancer research facility. To reach its goals, SMMiL-E is counting on Lille Region’s resources for transfer and development of bioMEMS-type microtechnologies developed by the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science.
The program will use basic research to develop fundamental new knowledge that will improve patient care by making cancer detection, treatment and post-treatment follow-up more effective. To have a real impact on the fight against cancer, SMMIL-E researchers will stay close to medical personnel: in the first phase of the project, University of Tokyo equipment will occupy a new platform in Lille’s Oscar Lambret Cancer Treatment Center.

Sources: La Voix du Nord, Les Echos, L’Usine Nouvelle, Le Figaro, Biotech finances

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